When it was announced in February that Channel 5 would no longer be funding the venerable Australian soap opera, Executive Producer Jason Herbison (shown top left), was brutally reminded of the importance of appreciating what you have before it is gone.
If its inclusion on TV schedules had been somewhat taken for granted, fans’ emotions unexpectedly erupted.
“We’ve only really seen this big reaction from the audience since the programme was announced to be terminating, and we truly heard how much it means to them,” he tells TV Tonight.
“But if you’re not getting something incredibly essential and special from that show, you don’t bring a television show into your living room for decades on end. And I believe that’s what this has given to our viewers.
“How frequently would a show be accepted into popular culture for decades in another country in addition to its own?”
Herbison’s first television employment came when she wrote a “Dear Producers c/0 Nunawading” letter as a Year 11 student; it was Neighbours. In response, story editor Ray Kolle made an offer to hire him as a storyliner and later as a scriptwriter. After replacing Richard Jasek as series producer in 2013, he returned in late 2015 as executive producer.
He wrote the last episodes, including the eagerly anticipated extended finale with cameos from Guy Pearce, Jason Donovan, and Kylie Minogue. Margot Robbie, Jesse Spencer, Delta Goodrem, Kym Valentine, and Carla Bonner are new names that have been verified; according to UK reports, Natalie Imbruglia and Holly Valance may also have made special films.
At the time of our conversation, specifics were still a secret.
He says, “I always thought about how I would conclude the show if it ended.
“It looks fantastic. The conclusion, in my opinion, is quite appropriate and joyous, just as I had hoped. The public will likely greatly enjoy it, I believe.
“Of course, people are aware of our announcement, and I’ve read a variety of rumours on how and what all of these people will do when they return. I believe that what we ultimately did was not widely known.
“I was really hoping it would be a celebration of the past and the present. That we truly celebrate the show today was something that was very important to me. Not everything is about the past. Yet I desired that it be both. So, in my opinion, the solution we came up with strikes a really beautiful balance between the past and the present while still leaving the door open for the future. whatever it might be.
Herbison has developed techniques for bringing the past into the present over the past six years, bringing back a variety of new and heritage characters such as Madeleine West, Carla Bonner, Ally Fowler, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, and Annie Jones, and addressing a lack of diversity with a same-sex wedding, transgender, non-binary, people with disabilities, and people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Indigenous.
If Herbison was catching up on missed time on the show, it is obvious that the spark that initially drew him to Ramsay Street as a young man has not faded.
When I first started watching the show as a youngster and became a major fan, there were a lot of older characters. People might recognise Scott and Charlene, but the majority of the group was older, he reflects.
The older characters back then provided the younger characters with something they may not have experienced in their own lives: a sense of family, a sense of belonging, and a sense of community.
“When I reflect on Neighbours’ debut in the middle of the 1980s, I believe it achieved, in a corny way, the “perfect balance” of storytelling that no other programme had achieved. A blend of drama, comedy, and the heartland, to put it simply.
“At the time, it was a really distinctive combination, and later others imitated it. Even the British soap operas started to alter and adapt.
This is a point that Herbison is adamant about and that Australian audiences don’t truly understand.
“All of the British soap operas aired twice a week when Neighbours debuted in the UK in 1986. However, Neighbours began airing five episodes per week, and eventually, twice per day. Because of Neighbours, every single serial drama in the UK underwent a full revolution, and gradually increased to 3, 4, 5, and 6 episodes.
“In my opinion, this issue doesn’t receive enough attention. The introduction of Neighbours drastically altered British television.
“It was, in my opinion, incredibly aspirational and escapism-filled. However, it was also quite engrossing. While the show has changed and progressed over the years, in my opinion, if you compare an episode from the 1980s to one from Neighbours 2022, you will realise that it has advanced. However, some standards continue to apply.
During the height of the epidemic, Neighbours was a pioneer in television drama around the globe for finding a way forward. Production companies from all over the world and media outlets as distant as the BBC and New York Times contacted Herbison and his crew to learn about the solution they had developed to film safely—an accomplishment that should never be forgotten.
It’s amazing that we have been recognised for such a significant accomplishment. However, those two years were extraordinarily challenging, and I believe those of us in Melbourne—of which you are one—know how challenging it was to get by in daily life, let alone at work.
“People have to interact with each other because this is a contact sport. We overcame a pretty difficult period, and I’m quite pleased of that.
Herbison doesn’t have much time to rest since he has already begun work on the recently announced miniseries Riptide for 10/Channel 5.
I’ll end by addressing the fans and asking if he sees a future in which Neighbours might be brought back.
He doesn’t rule anything out.
It’s a well-known brand. Obviously, shows nowadays do return after a year, five years, or twenty years. Numerous items have undergone reboots. I believe that everything is possible, but it is undoubtedly the end today.
Neighbours Finale Week:
Monday July 25 6:30pm – 8pm 10 Peach
Tuesday July 26 6:30pm – 8pm 10 Peach
Wednesday July 27 6:30pm – 8pm 10 Peach
Thursday July 28 7.30pm – 9pm on 10 and 10 Peach